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Walking 

Tours 

of 

LOWELL 



Canals, 

West 




LANDMARKS 


Ayer Mansion (Franco-American School) (29) 

Clare Street (20) 

Coburn’s Tavern (Banchand Hall) (105) 

Francis Gate Complex (21) 

Lawrence Canal 

Lawrence Mfg. Co. Agent’s House (Lowell Day Nursery) (13) 
Lowell Corporation Hospital (St. Joseph’s) 

Merrimack Canal Gatehouse (1) 

Moody Street Feeder 
North Common 

Northern Canal & Gatehouse (30) 

Old Ladies Home 
Pawtucket Canal (111) 

Pawtucket Congregational Church 
Pawtucket Falls & Dam (31) 

Round House (28) 

St. George’s Syrian Orthodox Church (104) 

Spaulding House (27) 

Suffolk Mfg. Co. Boarding House Block (14) 

Suffolk Mfg. Co. Mills (99) 

Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church (103) 

Tremont Canal Gatehouse 
Tremont Mfg. Co. 

Western Canal (15) 

(—) refers to position of landmark on HISTORIC LOWELL 
map. 


The Mills and Canals 
Western Tour 


“The Green Tour” 

Begin this tour at the Merrimack Canal Gatehouse 
(1). Because the Locks & Canals system is so vast 
(5.5 miles of canals) this tour will concentrate only 
on the Western end of the system. 

The Merrimack Gatehouse was built as a part of 
the Northern Canal project of 1847-1848. Its three 
sluice gates control the flow of water from the Moody 
Street Feeder , an underground canal, originating at 
the Western and Northern Canals. 

As you leave the Gatehouse, turn right onto Merri¬ 
mack Street and proceed towards Suffolk Street. 

The Lowell canal system is an amazing accomplish¬ 
ment of nineteenth century engineering. Built upon 
an existing eighteenth century transportation canal, 
its primary purpose was to convert the thirty-two 
foot fall of the Merrimack River into power to run 
the machinery of the Lowell mills. 

In 1792 the Proprietors of Locks & Canals on 
Merrimack River was formed by a group of New- 
buryport merchants and financiers to construct a 
canal around the Pawtucket Falls at East Chelmsford. 
This scheme was part of a greater hope expressed by 
Alexander Hamilton, that waterways could be em¬ 
ployed as a communications and transportation net¬ 
work to unite the new nation. For the first ten years 
of its existence the canal did a solid business directing 
timber and goods from New Hampshire to Newbury- 
port. However, in 1803 the Middlesex Canal was 
opened. This marvel ran almost thirty miles from 
Middlesex Village, in Chelmsford, to the Port of 
Boston. The Pawtucket Canal became obsolete. 

Not long after the opening of the Middlesex Canal, 
Francis Cabot Lowell began his experiment in textiles 
at Waltham. The embargo of 1812 had had a disas¬ 
trous effect on American trade, and the merchants of 
Coastal New England were searching for new invest¬ 
ments to re-coup their losses. Francis Cabot Lowell 
combined all the operations of cotton production 
under a single roof using machinery powered by 
water. This demonstrated the industrial potential of 
New England. 

The Charles River could not provide the power 
necessary for a truly significant experiment of major 
proportions. The thirty-two foot drop of the Merri¬ 
mack River at East Chelmsford, however, in addition 
to the Middlesex Canal and the existing near- 
abandoned Pawtucket Canal, provided a perfect set¬ 
ting for the series of events that would revolutionize 
American society, business, and technology. 



“Little Canada” 1912 City of Lowell 


This area, through which you are now walking, 
was known, in the nineteenth and early twentieth 
centuries, as “Little Canada”, the center of Lowell’s 
French Canadian community. Substantial numbers of 
French Canadians arrived here during the 1860’s and, 
like the Irish before them, were hired for the most 
menial tasks. 

The French community established eight churches 
of three denominations, a hospital (St. Joseph’s), a 
college and numerous civic, social, and cultural insti¬ 
tutions. L'Etoile, Lowell’s French daily newspaper, 
ceased publication in 1957. This community has pro¬ 
duced countless civic and professional leaders. One 
well known Lowellian of French descent is the “beat- 
generation” novelist, Jack Kerouac. 

Continuing on Merrimack Street, turn right onto 
Suffolk Street. On your left is the Western Canal. 
Built in 1832, its water powered the Suffolk, Tremont, 
and Lawrence Mills. It is a mile in length. 

Proceed along the canal and turn right at St. Pat¬ 
rick's Church (18). Walk through the churchyard 
and cross Adams Street. Continue through to the 
North Common. 

The site of the North Common was purchased by 
the city in 1845 during the great Locks & Canals land 
sale. The North and the South Commons were the 
City’s first attempts at providing badly needed open 
space. This Common was recently reconstructed as 
a part of Lowell’s Model Cities Program. 

Turn right and walk along the perimeter of the 
North Common to the Transfiguration Greek Ortho¬ 
dox Church (103). During the 1920’s the Greek 
community of Lowell was divided over political and 
religious issues. Some of the original members of the 
Holy Trinity congregation separated and established 




















a new parish on this site. This church was constructed 
in the 1950’s to house the newer congregation. 

Turn left onto Clark Street and proceed to Fletcher 
Street. 

On the corner of Fletcher and Clark Streets, is the 
Lafayette Club, a French social organization. This 
building was originally built by the City in the 1870’s 
as a fire engine house. 

Turn right and continue on Fletcher Street. At the 
corner of Fletcher and Bower Streets is the Roman¬ 
esque-styled St. George’s Syrian Orthodox Church 
(104). It was originally built as the French Congre¬ 
gational Church. 

To the rear of the church, on Fletcher Street, is 
the Old Ladies Home , built in 1888. It was designed 
in the Queen Anne style by the Lowell architect Otis 
Merrill. 

Turn left onto Bowers Street, a primarily middle 
class neighborhood of 1840 through 1870 homes. 

Cross School Street and continue onto West Bow¬ 
ers Street (on your left). At the corner of West 
Bowers and Wannalancit Street, to your right, is the 
Round House (28), a private residence. 

The Round House was completed in 1872 by 
“Gentleman Johnnie” Bowers, a carriage maker and 
proprietor of the Willow Dale Amusement Park. This 
unusual Second Empire residence cost a reputed 
$30,000 and is graced by a central circular staircase. 
Atop the staircase is a cupola with Haley’s Comet 
painted on its ceiling. Using the finest materials, he 
finished the interior with mahogany woodwork, and 
Italian marble fireplace mantels. The rooms reflect 
the round plan of the house. The third floor is a 
ballroom. 

Adjacent to it, and across the street, are two beauti¬ 
ful shingle style houses of the 1890’s. On the right is 
a Colonial Revival house of 1906. 

Turn left onto Wannalancit Street and walk 
towards the Bartlett School. 

On your left, atop the hill, #98 Wannalancit Street 
was the home of Otis Merrill, the architect for City 
Hall and other prominent Lowell structures. It is a 
simple Second Empire cottage. 

At the Bartlett School turn right and then left onto 
Clare Street (20). Clare Street is chiefly single and 
two-family cottage homes of the 1890’s built for the 
lower middle class. 

Turn right onto Broadway. 

On your right, as you cross the bridge, is the 
Francis Gate Complex (21) on the Pawtucket Canal. 
This is the first set of navigation locks on the canal. 
They were built originally in 1792 and rebuilt later 
in the nineteenth century. 

The early canal was not without its problems as a 
local historian noted: 


The first boat passed through in 1797 .. . 

This being the first canal that was built in 
this country, hundreds of both sexes and of 
all ages stood around and upon the first 
lock; and as soon as the boat, containing 
the directors and invited gentlemen, had 
entered the lock its sides suddenly gave 
way. Spectators and voyagers both were 
submerged and were carried with great 
violence down the stream . . . 

The brick Romanesque structure was built in 1870 
and houses five sluice gates which regulate the flow 
of water into the canal. 



Northern Canal and Walkway c. 1870 

Lowell Historical Society 


The most famous structure at this site however, 
is the Francis Gate, known for many years as “Francis’ 
Folly”. James Bicheno Francis, Chief Engineer of the 
Locks and Canals, made a study of the historical 
water levels of the Merrimack River. He determined 
that a serious flood was possible. Such a flood, raging 
through the canal system, would destroy the central 
city. Between 1848 and 1850 he designed and built 
this guard gate which would effectively seal off the 
canal system from the flood waters. Local people 
laughed at such foolishness and referred to it as 
“Francis’ Folly”. However, in 1852, a spring freshet 



swelled the Merrimack River to dangerous propor¬ 
tions; this gate was lowered and the city was saved. 
It was lowered again in 1936 during an even higher 
flood and helped minimize the damage. 

Turn right onto Tyng Street and continue along¬ 
side the canal to Pawtucket Street. On your left is 
the Pilling Shoe Mill, now elderly housing. 

The Pawtucket Canal originally had four sets of 
navigation locks. In 1822 Kirk Boott, using Irish 
laborers, widened and deepened the original channel 
and removed one set of locks. This was to provide 
necessary “head” of water to operate the water¬ 
wheels. 

Turn right onto Pawtucket Street. 

Further along on your left, is the Spaulding House 
(27), built about 1760 by Robert Hildreth. 

Before the Pawtucket Canal was built, loggers 
were forced to transport their timber around the 
Pawtucket Falls, on land, by ox-cart. For some time 
Moses Davis maintained a tavern here to serve those 
loggers. In 1777, Captain John Ford, a Revolutionary 
War hero bought the house. In 1790 Ford sold it to 
Joel Spaulding, another Revolutionary War veteran. 
His son, Joel, an eminent Lowell physician partici¬ 
pated in the “underground railroad” by opening his 
home as a refuge for runaway slaves. The house 
is now owned and maintained by the local chapter 
of the Daughters of the American Revolution and 
is open to the public. 

Turn left onto School Street. 

Before the development of Lowell, Falls Village, 
a small cluster of houses, was located here, in East 
Chelmsford, at the only existing bridge. Across the 
river, in what was then Dracut, is the Pawtucket 
Congregational Church, organized in 1790. A Revere 
Bell, originally from the Middlesex Village Church, 
hangs in its tower. 

The white cottage (1848) on your left, adjacent 
to the Northern Canal Gatehouse (30), was the Gate¬ 
keeper’s residence. 



James B. Francis Lowell Historical Society 



Mile of Mills 


c. 1900 


Lowell Historical Society 







By the 1840’s, companies on the end of the canal 
system were complaining of inadequate power to 
run their machinery. To correct this, James B. Fran¬ 
cis designed and built the Northern Canal. This mas¬ 
sive canal brought water directly to the end of the 
canal system to power six millyards. In order to regu¬ 
late the current of the Merrimack River, Locks & 
Canals bought the rights to the New Hampshire lakes 
that compose the origin of the river. The Northern 
Canal was built in 1847 and 1848 to handle this im¬ 
proved capacity. It is 4,373 feet long, one hundred 
feet wide and fifteen feet deep. In addition to the 
Northern Canal, Francis also built the Moody Street 
Feeder. This is an underground canal that runs from 
the terminus of the Northern at the Western Canal, 
under Moody Street to the Merrimack Canal. This 
Gatehouse contains nine sluice gates to control the 
flow of water into the canal. Now electrically pow¬ 
ered, they were originally activated by a water tur¬ 
bine, designed by Francis. This site also had a guard 
gate, similar to the Francis Gate, and navigation 
locks that allowed transportation down the North¬ 
ern Canal. 

Beyond the Gatehouse is the Pawtucket Falls and 
Dam (31). The dam was first built in 1826 to divert 
more water into the Pawtucket Canal. It was rebuilt 
and lengthened in 1830 and again in 1875. It creates 
a “mill pond”, 18 miles long, on the Merrimack Riv¬ 
er. 

(When the Heritage State Park is fully devel¬ 
oped this tour will continue along the Northern 
Canal Walk, a passageway atop the Great Wall, be¬ 
tween the canal and river. In the meantime, the tour 
will follow a path parallel to the canal). 

Return to Pawtucket Street and turn left. 

The Franco-American School (29) on your left, 
at the corner of Pawtucket and School Streets, was 
originally built in the Second Empire style during 
the 1870’s by Frederick F. Ayer, brother of the pat¬ 
ent medicine manufacturer, James C. Ayer. 

Pawtucket Street was a neighborhood of wealthy 
self-made men, whose ambitions were reflected in 
their homes. 

Bachand Hall, at the foot of Fletcher Street, was 
originally built in 1824 by Phineas Fletcher and 
known at Coburn’s Tavern later called Stone House 
Hotel (105). Lowell’s first town meeting was held 
here in 1826. The hotel was a popular resort for 
Bostonians and was known for its wide verandas 
with their panoramic views of the river. The annual 
“Lighting Up” Ball was held here in September when 
it was necessary to light the lamps in the mills. The 
“Blowing Out” Ball was held in March when the 
lamps were extinguished. In 1850 James C. Ayer 
converted the house for his private residence. In 1876 
his wife established the “Ayer Home for Young 
Women and Children” here. 



Boott House Lowell Historical Society 


St. Joseph’s Hospital on your right is the succes¬ 
sor to the Lowell Corporation Hospital. A local his¬ 
torian noted that: 

“In 1839, the manufacturing Corpora¬ 
tions purchased the spacious and elegant 
mansion house erected by Kirk Boott, Esq., 
which, with the necessary alterations, cost 
twenty thousand dollars. This building was 
set apart as a hospital for sick operatives. 

Its commodious parlors and chambers were 
converted into wards, and one of the most 
eminent practitioners in Lowell was ap¬ 
pointed its physician . . . All persons in the 
employ of the Corporations, who are taken 
sick, can here have the best nursing and 
medical attendance. The charges are four 
dollars a week for men, and three dollars 
for women. 

Follow Pawtucket Street to the French Street Ex¬ 
tension. Stay on the left hand sidewalk and continue 
along the canal bank. 

The water flowed into the newly constructed 
Northern Canal by blowing up the Coffer Dam with 
two barrels of Oliver Whipple’s Best Powder. Dan¬ 
iel Webster exclaimed upon seeing the new canal: 
“The stupendous works of Almighty God are so well 
adapted to the wants of men.” 

Lowell was often referred to as the “Venice of 
America” and this was illustrated at no better point 
than here, where shabby tenements crowded one an¬ 
other upon the walls of this canal. The Board of 
Health noted: 

There are others so near on the side of a 
neighboring building, that a person cannot 
pass between; where the eaves overlap, and 
the rooms are dark at 3 P.M. One of the new¬ 
est buildings in “Little Canada”, a huge three 
story, flat roof caravansary, 206 x 44 feet, 
has a population of 396 persons. Every 






tenement in this building (four rooms, 
usually, except the end ones) has two dark 
rooms, lighted by high, small windows in 
the kitchen only; . . . 

On the right at the corner of French and Cabot 
Streets, is a Suffolk Manufacturing Company Board¬ 
ing House Block (1845) (14). The boarding houses 
were built close to the mills because of the long hours 
that the operatives worked and more importantly 
so that the company executives could keep watch on 
the “moral standing” of the workers. 

Turn left onto Cabot Street. As you cross the 
canal, on your right is the rear portion of the Suffolk 
Millyard (99). The gabled building at the far end 
is a boarding house block of about 1831 that was 
converted for industrial use. 

On the left, facing Perkins Street, is the Lawrence 
Manufacturing Company’s Agent’s House (1830) 
(13). Agents were the executives responsible for the 
day to day administration of the mills. This house 
is occupied now by the Lowell Day Nursery (1889), 
originally established by the Lowell mills to aid 
working mothers. 

Continue on Cabot Street. The parking lots on 
either side of you were occupied by the boarding 
houses of the Lawrence Manufacturing Company. 

The Lawrence Mills were founded in 1830 and are 
the last remaining of the original twelve corporations 
still in Lowell. 

Turn right onto Perkins Street. 

Parallel to Perkins Street, and partially covered 
by mills, is the Lawrence Canal. Built in 1831, it is 
1400 feet long, and directs water from the Western 
Canal into the Lawrence Yard. 

The small house-like structure on your left, across 
the canal, is the Counting House, built in the 1880’s 



Suffolk Mfg. Co. c. 1850 Lowell Historical Society 











to replace an earlier one. The Counting House was 
the administrative offices of the mills and this was 
the only public entrance into the yard. 

Turn right onto Suffolk Street. 

On your left is the site of the Tremont Manufac¬ 
turing Company (1831). The mills were carefully 
razed for salvage in the 1930’s when the company 
closed. In 1871 the Tremont was merged with the 
Suffolk Mills (1831) located on the right. 

The Suffolk Yard was rebuilt in 1863 when the 
mills closed during the Civil War. This created such 
panic among corporations that Charles Cowley 
noted: 

During the late war, . . . the Merrimack 
Company showed great “lack of sagacity 
and forethought — in stopping their mills 
— in dismissing their operatives — in dis¬ 
continuing the purchase of cotton and in 
selling their fabrics at a slight advance on 
their peace prices and at less than the ac¬ 
tual cost of similar fabrics at the time of 
sale. Had they not committed this stupen¬ 
dous blunder, they might have realized 
many millions of dollars during the War. 

But instead of boldly running, as companies 
elsewhere did, they took counsel of their 
fears and their spacious mills stood 
( empty). 

The blunders of this company, were nat¬ 
urally copied by others — the younger com¬ 
panies being accustomed to “dress” on the 
Merrimack . . . 

The long low structure is the original Counting 
House of 1831. The Yard now houses an operating 
textile concern and the Lowell Museum. 

Further along, on your left is the Tremont Gate¬ 
house (1855), which regulates the unique flow of 
water on this end of the Western Canal. At this 
point, the canal is actually on two levels. Water 
powered both the Tremont and Suffolk Yards, and 
re-entered the canal to power the Lawrence Yard. 
Additional water could be directed to the Lawrence 
Yard on a different level, bypassing the Suffolk and 
Tremont. The Gatehouse was built as part of the 
Northern Canal Project (1848-1849) in the Roman¬ 
esque style. 

Cross French Street and continue along the bank 
of the Western Canal, turn left onto Merrimack 
Street and return to the Merrimack Canal Gatehouse. 




Notes 
































This tour was made available through a grant 
from the Massachusetts Bicentennial Commission 
and an appropriation from the Hapood Wright Cen¬ 
tennial Fund by the Lowell Bicentennial/Sesquicen- 
tennial Commission. It was developed by Joseph R. 
Orfant, a graduate of Yale and former employee of 
the City Development Authority. He served as secre¬ 
tary of the Lowell Historical Commission and is 
presently employed as the National Register Editor 
for the Massachusetts Historical Commission. 


Advisory Committee 

Nancy L. Cassin Bicentennial/Sesquicentennial 

Commission 

Lewis T. Karabatsos Lowell Museum Corporation 
Robert Malavich City Development Authority 
Joseph F. Murray, Esq. 

Coordinator y Bicentennial/ 
Sesquicentennial Commission 

Anne Welcome _ Human Service Corporation 


Special thanks to Marie K. Sweeney of Lowell 
High School for her comments on the final script. 







LOWELL